As training camps across the NFL are set to open up in less than two weeks, some teams may be looking at a competitive disadvantage due to their vaccination rates. According to Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, two teams remain under 50% vaccinated. This is improved from four clubs being under that threshold, which Rob Maaddi of the Associated Press noted in a report released on Thursday. The Los Angeles Chargers, Washington Football Team, Indianapolis Colts, and Arizona Cardinals were said to be the teams with the four lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the league as of Thursday, per the AP's source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, but it's unclear which two still remain under 50%.
Meanwhile, the NFL Network adds that 13 teams are over the 85% vaccinated threshold and 73.8% of players have at least one shot. The AP adds that the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos are among with teams with the highest vaccination rates.
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Maaddi notes that teams are required to have a method of easily identifying vaccinated individuals (Ex. credentials, color-coded wristbands, etc.). While fully vaccinated players face relaxed protocols this season, unvaccinated players will be required to undergo daily testing, wear masks and practice social distancing. Other restrictions include not being allowed to eat meals with teammates, participate in media or marketing activities while traveling, using the sauna or steam room and being confined to the team hotel while traveling. Vaccinated players have no such restrictions.
These vaccination numbers come in particular focus as we not only creep toward the start of the NFL's regular season but as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a thorn in the side of professional sports in the United States. The Red Sox-Yankees game scheduled for Thursday to begin the second half of the MLB season was postponed due to an outbreak within New York's clubhouse. Team USA basketball's exhibition with Australia was canceled due to health and safety concerns after star guard Bradley Beal was sent home and will no longer participate in the Olympics.
The AP reports that the NFL does not plan to postpone games this season, so naturally, teams with fewer players vaccinated do open themselves up to playing under less-than-ideal conditions. There was arguably no greater example of that in 2020 than when the Broncos' entire quarterback room was ineligible to play in Week 12 due to COVID-19, thrusting wide receiver Kendall Hinton in as the team's starting quarterback. If teams want to avoid a similar scenario and have a fully equipped squad heading into a game on a weekly basis, having a high vaccination rate is paramount.